INTERVIEW WITH DENNIS WHITE
Rev. Dennis White served in full-time church ministry over a span of 64 years. While his early religious life would begin in a Pilgrim Holiness church at the age of six, Dennis would come to know Jesus as his Lord and Saviour at age 15 and would have a life-changing encounter with Jesus at age 18—an encounter that would ultimately lead to his decision to serve as a pastor and spiritual leader in full-time ministry. Dennis credits the late Rev. Robert Eames as being especially instrumental in his early Christian formation.
Born on the island of Barbados and raised in Trinidad from age eight, Dennis pursued theological training at the West Indian School of Theology. Later in life, he would lead the same institution as its general superintendent before serving for two years as the associate pastor and resident evangelist for First Assembly Church in Calgary, Alta.
It was during that time that the PAOC approached Rev. White with a ministry opportunity in the nation of Kenya. White had no previous desire to minister in Kenya, but in prayer, God confirmed to him and his wife, Esther, that this was His will for them.
When I spoke with Dennis recently, he admitted that his ministry in Kenya was initially a “Herculean challenge” but also acknowledged how God met him in a profound manner. Serving in the capital city of Nairobi, Rev. White’s church grew to accommodate meetings of 10,000 attendees weekly, with hundreds of those attendees participating in weekly Tuesday evening prayer meetings. By his own admission, the success and growth of the ministry can be attributed to the groundwork which was laid by ministers who came before him as well as the evident presence of God on the work that was being done. White also endeavoured to move the church from being led by “expatriates,” a pattern established through tradition, to a model where nationals would comprise the church’s leadership.
Esther White established a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program which saw hundreds of children hear the Good News of Jesus through the years. This was far from her only contribution to the ministry which she shared with her husband. She was, and is, recognized as a woman with marketplace experience, a passion for prayer, and a healthy work ethic.
The growth of the work in Kenya demanded what Dennis would call “incalculable assistance,” primarily from the Lord but also from volunteers; leadership training was integral in the sustaining impact of the Nairobi congregation.
The church’s growth attracted the eyes of the nation, including the country’s president at the time, Daniel Moi. As a result, the church was referred to as “The President’s Church” due to Moi’s visits. This garnered rising attention and natural pressures that come from being in the public eye. Ultimately, five other churches would be birthed throughout the nation. Presently, the Nairobi congregation continues in vibrancy, with more than 20 satellite churches and approximately 40,000 members.
I also asked Rev. White about his biggest ministry challenge. There is an account that particularly stood out in his mind.
With the central assembly in Nairobi enjoying great success, the Whites agreed to plant another church in Nairobi South. At the time, the meetings were conducted in a large tent which housed necessary tech equipment for church gatherings. One day, torrential weather obliterated this mobile base of operations, causing an estimated cost of half a million Kenyan shillings in damages. The tent was not insured. As a result of this mishap, Dennis seriously questioned if he had heard correctly from God.
However, he did what he was prone to do—he prayed.
While he was praying, a brother in Christ came alongside him to offer encouraging words and then handed him an envelope. Within the envelope was a cheque which would cover all of the expenses for the needed repairs. After that, a Christian lady came to him to offer further financial support for the work with an additional cheque. As God had done in the past, He once again miraculously provided! Dennis learned the value of trusting God in the face of trouble and calamity.
I asked him to share his greatest joy in ministry, and three things stood out to him. The people he ministered to who were appreciative for “salvation, Christian growth or encouragement in difficult times” encouraged him. It was a joy for him to help his first daughter, Beverly (currently an ordained minister with PAOC who served as his associate), to serve in Christian ministry. And it is still a delight for him to reflect on the creation of a village for street children in Kenya which endures to this day—sitting on 50 acres of land, where children are “blessed, educated and cared for,” serving as “valuable citizens in Kenya.”
He had some advice for young ministers, broken down into Four Do’s and Four Don’ts.
The Four Do’s:
- Live with a sense of direction and purpose, having a fixed idea of the way you should go—not simply allowing your life to be a product of trending tides.
- Maintain a life of discipline—particularly spiritual discipline. He encourages people to build themselves up in the Word, meditating on it, praying, and allowing the Spirit of God to guide in applying the Bible to everyday life.
- Be determined—White exhorts us to be prepared for internal and external battles that will make you question your worth and value, including facing issues based on racism. His admonition: “Don’t give up—keep fighting.”
- Be dependent—upon God the Holy Spirit. “Independence is the greatest assault against a minister’s success. Humble dependence upon the Holy Spirit … brings tremendous success.”
The Four Don’ts:
- Don’t compare yourself to anyone else—be yourself. Be unique.
- Don’t compete—don’t try to outdo another person. Do what God has called you to do.
- Don’t complain—it can lead to discontentment, which can lead to covetousness and sin. Seek to compliment, rather than complain.
- Don’t compromise—be true to the Word of God and its truth, as well as the calling that God has placed on your life.
As our interview time was winding down, I asked Rev. White to comment on what he has observed in church ministry in recent years. He acknowledged that we’re all living in difficult and confusing times, both of which could lead to people losing their confidence in God’s Word. He wanted to remind us of scripture verses like John 16:13, which speak to the ability of the Holy Spirit to speak to His people, and the early chapters of Revelation, where the reader is invited to hear what the Spirit would say to the churches. Dennis believes that the Holy Spirit is still with us today and still guides us. He can help us to be one step ahead of what is taking place so that we don’t end up as “victims” but instead as “victors.”
He strongly believes that Christians need to grow in their level of trusting God. It is this area in the lives of Christians in North America that needs to be cultivated and matured. “Trusting God is developed by reliance through relationship,” says White. He emphasized the importance of having a relationship with God which is full of vitality—a relationship augmented through association, interaction and fellowship with Jesus. He goes on to affirm that “The deeper our relationship, the deeper our trust.” Trust, in his eyes, is “the missing dimension” in many people’s Christian experience today. The only way to counteract the difficulties that currently exist is “a reliance upon God that is strong and robust [that] can withstand … present-day challenges.”
Rev. White retired from full-time ministry three years ago but began a ministry in 2012 specifically for those who have walked away from the church, whether because of a loss of faith in God or in pastors. Called Re-Connection Ministry, Esther and Beverly help him to lead it. The work continues to this day, a work which White admits is hard and requires a willingness to journey with people for an extended time. While there are those who see healing in their lives, the Whites have also encountered those who are not ready to come once again under the leadership of the church as they continue to wrestle with their own willingness to come under the authority of others. Dennis conceded that there are many who need to be “restored, revitalized, and reconnected.”
I had the following takeaways from the interview:
- Encounters with God are essential to ongoing and thriving ministry—we see this in the Bible in the lives of everyone from Abraham to Moses, and from Paul to John. It was the same in Rev. White’s ministry and is something that every Christian leader should be mindful of.
- God can use you if you are willing to be used. Isaiah met the Lord in a profound way and thereafter offered himself for service (Isaiah 6:5-8). I see the same pattern in Rev. White’s life, allowing his availability to be an opportunity for God’s use in Trinidad, Canada, Kenya, and in Canada once again. God wants to do things through us regardless of our age, stage or colour. What opportunities are waiting for you and me as we make ourselves available and do not allow barriers, be they visible or otherwise, to hold us back?
I’m thankful for the opportunity to have spoken with Rev. White. Let his life be one of many examples that lead us on our own pilgrimage of trust in Jesus!
Pastors Dennis and Esther White are now retired and live in Midland Ont., and they have three grown children.
Duane Henry has been an ordained minister of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada for 22 years and has served in various pastoral positions throughout his 24 years of full-time ministry. He is currently on pastoral staff as the director of care at PORTICO Community Church in Mississauga, Ont. Duane, his wife and two children make their home in Ancaster, Ont.
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2023 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2023 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos courtesy Beverly White. Above: Pastor Dennis encouraging the congregation at the construction site of the church in Karen, Kenya. VBS in St. Vincent in 2011. Passionate about ministry to children, Pastors Dennis and Esther have presented Vacation Bible School across East Africa and the Caribbean.